The city of Baguio is most decidedly not what foreigners imagine when they think of the Philippines. It’s a concrete slab of a hill station in northern Luzon (the big island) and for most foreign travelers it’s just the gateway to the mountain towns in the Cordillera Range.
We’d decided on it, like, 15 minutes before we caught a bus to Baguio from Angeles.
We’d landed at Clark Airport at two in the afternoon and were officially stamped in by 2:30, so that left us a big chunk of time, but neither of us wanted to meet the prostitutes that Angeles is so well known for… So we had to hurry and decide on a place to go or end up spending the night in Angeles.
I wasn’t ready for a climb on nearby Mt. Pinatubo, and was bent on avoiding the Easter crowds (one of the biggest holidays in the Philippines) so I stupidly assumed nobody would want to go to the mountains. Moreover, it was logical to get the mountain visit over with before we went beach hopping in the islands, since we have flights out of the country from Cebu and wouldn’t need to come back to Luzon.
After 13 long hours of sit-travel (from Bangkok to Baguio) we finally disembarked from the bus and staggered around looking for a room to bunk in. It was nigh 11 at night and most of the cheap rooms were already booked, so we finally had to settle for a drab room in a dubious looking hotel tucked into an alley littered with beer bottles and plastic wrappers. (We moved the next morning into a sunny room somewhere else, thankfully).
At night, it’s pretty mellow, but in the daytime Baguio is a bustling metropolis that resembles a typical university town. Lots of young people milling around, shopping or yammering on phones, or both. Starbucks and coffee shops, wifi, McDonalds and Jollibees are everywhere; stores sell cute, stylish clothes at “low low price”; plenty of bars, all complete with videoke (karaoke) equipment; job postings in nearly every shop window. I found it interesting how many (particularly stores that were asking for women between 18 to 25) required that applicants be single.
As far as cities go, it wasn’t much of a looker and unfortunately the sun didn’t come out to brighten up the cement. May not have been the ideal introduction to the Philippines, but it was lively and real— it wasn’t a tourist town, and we enjoyed that. People were constantly joking and laughing, and many were very helpful whenever we needed directions or advice regarding transportation.
We were here only one full day here before we were on our way to Sagada, and spent most of it wandering the vast network of markets clustered around the town center.